No matter how Carnival Corporation is spinning the Cuba cruise issue to justify discriminating against Cuban-Americans — Cuba is doing the banning, not us! — they’re in the position of being the enforcers.
It’s not like Cuba is holding a gun to the head of billionaire Carnival and Miami Heat owner Micky Arison, who should know better than to acquiesce to prejudice against fellow Americans.
The Cuban government is, however, dangling before them a potentially profitable venture. If Carnival complies with an old repressive Cuban law that discriminates against a class of the traveling public — Cuban-born Americans — they can sail to Cuban ports.
“Of course, it is our policy to obey the regulations and laws of the countries we sail to around the world,” Arison said in a statement Monday, explaining why the world’s largest cruise line is going ahead with a May 1 debut sail and no-Cubans-allowed bookings into the rest of the year.
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But there’s no “of course” when it comes to discriminating based on country of origin — only choices. When faced with the same issue, one of Carnival’s competitors took the opposite course.
Two years ago, after the Tunisian government refused to allow a dozen Israeli passengers to disembark from a Norwegian Cruise Line ship in La Goulette, the company canceled all of the remaining ports of call in response and ceased doing business with Tunisia.
Norwegian chose ethical business behavior.
Both Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises have applied to cruise to Cuba. Will they too succumb to Cuba’s ban, or stand up on behalf of Cuban-American passengers?
“As Norwegian hasn’t yet received approval to sail to Cuba, it would be premature to comment on any hypothetical scenarios,” NCL spokeswoman Victoria Picariello told me Tuesday.
A trade group that represents 62 cruise lines was so concerned about the discriminatory practice of banning Cuban-American passengers from the Cuba cruises that its officials raised the issue with the White House and issued this statement: “Cruise Lines International Association supports the right of people to travel where they choose, free of discrimination.” The State Department responded that it’s aware and working with Cuban officials to address the unfairness, as Carnival says it is also doing.
Carnival — and particularly Arison — can’t claim ignorance of how Cuban-Americans would feel about a cruise that excludes them.
When the NBA announced a basketball exchange with Cuba last year, guess who was miffed that they weren’t told about a situation that could potentially upset their fans? Yep, Miami Heat managers. But nothing like getting a historic cruising contract to bring on board a cruise line chief.
Faced with tremendous backlash, Arison says Carnival “understands and empathizes with the concerns.” The company has “requested a reconsideration of this particular regulation especially as it relates to cruise travelers.”
He’s not backing down from cruising to Cuba on May 1 under discriminatory conditions.
But here’s something for Arison and the other cruise lines to ponder: Under the Cuba rule, even the CEO of Norwegian is banned.
He’s Cuban-born Frank J. Del Rio, a Coral Gables executive whose take-home pay last year was $31,910,348. He can afford the best cruising cabin in the world. His U.S.-born relatives can cruise to Cuba. But he can’t — he’s Cuban-American.
In this country that’s called, plain and simple, discrimination.
If it’s not okay to discriminate against other groups of people, it shouldn’t be acceptable to bow our heads and enact discriminatory practices when the aggrieved are Cuban-Americans.
No matter how you spin the deed, it’s shameful.